By BRUCE DENNILL
Pass Over at The Market Theatre is written by Antionette Nwandu and directed by James Ngcobo by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French Inc. The play explores the unquestionable human spirit of young black men who dream about a promised land, hoping a miracle will happen. Moses and Kitch are struggling to survive in the tough streets of America. A provocative riff on Waiting For Godot, it’s a rare piece of politically charged theatre by a bold new American voice.
Charlie Bouguenon stars as both “Mister” and “Ossifer”.
Live performance is both one of the main drawcards of being a performer and one of the most stressful parts of it. At one point in the process of being involved in a new project do you cross that line?
I absolutely love performing live. I hail from a performing arts family and grew up surrounded by performers. I’m more of a finished product person, but I unequivocally understand and respect the rehearsal process. And the closer we get to receiving audiences, the more excited I get, because the show gets more and more honed and the next step is to see how audiences respond to what we’re putting out there.
Do you have techniques to improve either scenario – consistently enjoying the performance aspect (it is a job, after all) or mitigating the stress (of all the issues – from iffy pay to annoying audiences)?
I do what I do purely because I love what I do. It has to be this way. Performing is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme, nor is it a walk on the park. It takes drive, dedication and a particular work ethic to keep on doing what you’re doing for, in my case, 18 years. I thrive in the variety of roles I’ve brought life to and the many different stories I’ve been able to tell and be a part of.
How do you choose projects? What needs to turn you on before you audition for something?
I tend to go for either interesting, layered characters or stories that intrigue me or compel me to tell them.
What are the hooks in a script that you like to hang a performance or the generation of a character on? Depth, dialogue, nuance, reality versus fantasy – what speaks most profoundly to you?
It’s most certainly a combination of all the attributes mentioned in your question. With this piece, it’s particularly that this is a contemporary piece; a piece that is holding up a mirror to American society. The fact that this script is layered and nuanced but absolutely incendiary was definitely a hook. It’s a new take on the absurdist Waiting For Godot in contemporary America, heavily infused with the Passover story of the Israelite slaves being liberated out of Egypt. Another interesting hook is that the script is devoid of punctuation, so there is much left up to the actor in terms of sentence structure. Various rhythms, emphases, intonations and interpretations leave so much room for expression and play.
The lifestyle of a working actor is a difficult one to square with family life, or a day job, or half a dozen other aspects of a traditional routine. How do you make it work?
I always joke that this lifestyle is a self-inflicted life sentence. The work is the reward. It goes without saying that being able to pay for the necessities of survival helps. But I do it because I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I am an actor and I want to be an actor. I love working in several different mediums and genres, but this for me is the endgame. Storytelling and bringing life to my characters gives me indescribable joy.
As a performer, you’re often asked to deliver on a set of expectations – the playwright’s; the director’s; the rest of the casts’; the audiences’… What sort of input do you prefer to (demand to?) have as an actor?
For me it is very simple. Stay true to the story. Honour the story. And play your truth.
What other roles do you, or would you like to, play in the industry – now or in the future? Writing, production, direction? And what about each or any of those excites you?
I’ve mentioned in a previous answer that acting is the endgame for me. And you’ll find me acting for as long as I am able. That being said, I have a deep love for directing and I’m sure I’ll express myself through that craft in the future. I also enjoy writing very much. But my desire for acting trumps them all.
Tell us about Pass Over, and what makes your character interesting to play?
Pass Over is an incredibly beautifully written work. It’s lyrical. The script has a music to it. It embodies the report between the characters of Moses [Khathu Ramabulana] and Kitch [Hungani Ndlovu]. And the characters that I play enter the space and disrupt their rhythm. I play two characters, Mister and Ossifer. Mister is the embodiment of white supremacy, of inherited power. He toys with the protagonists and observes them for his own whims. Ossifer is someone who has no real power. Only the power of force, the power of the gun and the badge. He is discriminatory, prejudiced and closed-minded and believes he is protecting the world from the scourge that Moses and Kitch represent. Pass Over as a play is a ticking time bomb. It builds you up, gives you hope and then knocks the wind out of you. It is a theatrical experience that … should not be passed over.